Household products contribute to city pollution

For many years, scientists claim that the most important source of VOCs are from the combustion of fuel in vehicles.

However, a recent study by Colorado University was brought to attention with the discovery that scientists have underestimated the sources of non-vehicle VOCs.

These non-vehicle VOCs are mainly petroleum-based chemical products, such as cleaning fluids, that forms particles that are hazardous to human health, especially respiratory illnesses.

It contributes to smog and tropospheric ozone formation as well. The US Environmental Protection Agency claims that 75 percent of petroleum-based VOCs comes from vehicle fuels and 25 percent from chemical products, however this recent Colorado reassessment declares that its 50-50.

Doctor McDonald, the lead author of the study at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science in Colorado, said: “The use of these [chemical] products emits VOCs in a magnitude that’s comparable to what comes out of the tailpipe of your car.”

This new discovery took the scientists by surprise because by weight, fuel consumption is much higher than chemical products.

Although 95 percent of raw oil is used for the production of fuel, Dr Jessica Gilman, a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states that the 5 percent used for chemicals is equally as damaging because of its design to simply drift through the air instead of breakdown into safer chemical compounds.

She said, “most commonly, they’re [VOCs] used as solvents – things like nail polish remover, the hairspray I used this morning; they are used in many cases as cleaning agents like carpet cleaners.”

The team went in depth with their research in order to pull together various information from their study.

It was concluded that consumer and industrial VOC emissions is twice or thrice the amount compared to the current estimate of air pollution inventories, where inventories overestimate motor vehicles sources.

With such high abundance of petroleum-based VOCs from chemical products in the troposphere, the challenge now is to enforce the reduction of the usage of petroleum-based chemical products in our everyday life, in order to ensure that VOCs do not continue to rise detrimentally.

Roger Harrabin, BBC Environmental Analyst, said “This is a neglected field of research as public and media attention has focused on cars outdoors at the expense of chemicals indoors”.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science control some of the bigger sources (vehicle VOCs) in the past, and consumer products have emerged as a result.

Hence, this field of study has become very important for the sake of air quality and health.

Professor Anthony Frew from respiratory medicine at Brighton & Sussex Medical School commented: “This research is a useful reminder that discussions of air pollution need to consider all sources of pollutants and that measures targeting cars only address part of the problem.”

With the advancement in alternative fuel for vehicles such as electric cars, we now need to bring this issue to the attention of the public in order for them to understand their impacts of using chemical products to the environment.


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sylvie tan

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January 2022
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